More organizations than ever are embarking on the journey to build innovation capability as a way to improve agility in the face of market disruption. But many of these initiatives will hit roadblocks, veer off course or run out of gas along the way.
Just what is it that separates the successful journey from the bumpy ride?
That’s the question we’ve been exploring over the past year, looking at a number of different organizations that have succeeded in their efforts to build innovation capability. Through this process, several common patterns emerged—foremost of which is a multi-year change journey with key waypoints along the path.
Four waypoints on the journey
The organizations we surveyed came from different industries, yet all had common markers along the way that they reached in a specific order. What follows is a summary of the four key waypoints, as well as the pathways, or strategies, that they used to advance to the next waypoint:
1) How do we make innovation a priority?
We observed two general ways to start the journey: either as a top-down mandate, with a senior leader declaring innovation to be a strategic imperative, or as a bottom-up approach, spurred on by a pocket in the organization that had embraced human-centered approaches to innovation.
In both situations, aligned executive support with dedicated people and money were critical for laying a foundation to fuel the rest of the journey.
- Pathways for aligning executive support
- Demonstrate Impact with real project work.
- Teach Ways through workshops.
- Introduce Possibilities at events.
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- Be sure to fully engage key stakeholders and confirm that leaders are aligned around innovation as a strategic priority.
2) How do we build support for innovation?
At this waypoint, most (if not all) leaders were aligned around the importance of innovation and had allocated resources to make it happen. The most successful sought to generate demand and “pull” the new ways into their organization by demonstrating results.
In addition to upskilling early adopters and creating success stories, these organizations engaged teams in safe, meaningful projects, which offered another benefit: It revealed existing forces within their culture that could help further the adoption of these new innovation methods—as well as those that might get in the way. A great deal of organizational learning occurred at this stage, and from those discoveries, each firm's unique approach to innovation began to shape.
- Pathways for building organizational support
- Generate Demand with impact stories from real project work.
- Seize Opportunities to integrate into existing training and events.
- Build Expertise by nurturing the energies of early adopters.
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- Be careful not to prioritize training over doing. Real project work allowed for success stories to emerge and demand to grow.
3) How do we scale innovation?
With a clear executive mandate and a growing demand for innovation methods, organizations faced the next challenge on the journey: How do we scale and spread these new ways? They enthusiastically rushed to match the strong demand with supply.
This included continuing to invest in developing people through training (delivered by internal and/or external resources) and providing support for ongoing project work. They also embedded innovation in a range of development programs, and they profiled stories and held events in virtual and physical spaces. A few built out more permanent structures, like centers of excellence charged with owning capability development.
- Pathways for scaling capability
- Maintain Momentum with real project work.
- Develop a Community by enabling and connecting champions.
- Do it Yourself by empowering internal champions to teach and share.
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- Be careful not to build out infrastructure before demand exists. t's better for people to be scrambling to build training capacity than for capacity to sit idle in the hopes it may someday be used.
4) How do we stay ahead?
We didn't find anyone who was willing to admit they had fully “arrived” at their destination. But there were a few who differentiated themselves with robust infrastructures designed to ensure innovation capability endured and to promote their own innovation identity. They were at a stage where they balanced an inward focus on continually improving what exists today with an outward focus on exploring new ideas and promising practices.
- Pathways for improving and exploring
- Raise the Bar with increasingly strategic projects resourced with internal innovation teams.
- Stay Sharp with workshops and events for new and existing employees.
- Review and Reimagine by revisiting the implications of changing market needs and challenging the status quo.
It's important to note that the successful organizations tackled these key waypoints, as represented by the four questions above, in this specific order—the sequence mattered. Many firms learned this lesson the hard way. In our conversations, we uncovered a curious tendency for organizations to perceive themselves to be further ahead in the process than they actually were. But when they tried to take shortcuts on the journey, they ended up getting lost and wasting valuable time and money.
We've captured these lessons so that you can accelerate your own journey. Get in touch with us to learn more about a short assessment you can take to better pinpoint where your organization is on the road to creating a culture of innovation.
And stay tuned. In an upcoming post, we’ll look at some core themes that informed the pathways organizations followed at different waypoints along the journey.
Are you ready to talk about your organization's journey to becoming an innovator? Book a Meeting to learn about our innovation workshops.